String Quartet in D, K575 (Prussian)
String Quartet in B flat, Op.67
Pražák Quartet [Pavel Hůla & Vlastimil Holek (violins), Josef Klusoň (viola) & Michal Kaňka (cello)]
Reviewed by: Tully Potter
Reviewed: 12 February, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This Wigmore Hall Coffee Concert was London’s first chance to hear the Pražák Quartet in its new configuration. Leader Václav Remeš had to retire early in 2010, owing to a neurological problem affecting his left hand, but fortunately the Kocian Quartet was winding down and its long-time leader, Pavel Hůla, agreed to join the Pražák. It meant six months of leading two quartets at once, but for just over a year he has been fully committed to his new post.
Issues of repertoire still remain, although the two original ensembles had many works in common, but as there had already been much collaboration over the years, Hůla was well acquainted with his new colleagues. He and second violinist Vlastimil Holek even had the same main teacher, the great (if unsung) Marie Hlounová. In one respect, vibrato, Hůla will fit in better than Remeš, whose wide vibrato worked well in Dvořák but (like that of Jenö Léner in the interwar years) could be a liability in the Viennese Classics.
Mozart’s first ‘Prussian’ Quartet opened with a few nervy exchanges and some sour intonation, but once it had settled down, one could appreciate how much independence the mature Mozart gave to the inner parts. The Andante was very nicely ‘sung’ by all four men. As the composer was trying to please the cello-playing Prussian King, he was given star turns in the Trio of the Minuet and in the finale, opportunities of which Michal Kaňka made the most.
I doubt that most listeners would have guessed this was Hůla’s first performance of the Brahms B flat. Czech ensembles (one thinks especially of the Smetana Quartet) have always fared well in this work, with its evocations of the great outdoors. Rhythms were nice and springy in the Pražák performance, with lovely phrasing in the Andante and warm tone from violist Josef Klusoň in the scherzo and in the variation finale. Not everything was perfect but, as a whole, it was most enjoyable.
The players did well to overcome the fusillades of bronchial eruptions from the Sunday-morning audience, one or two of whom seemed to think they were at a Cough-y Concert.